This is the story of how I almost fell for a common ploy that targets would-be writers into forking over hard earned cash. While technically I don’t think they are doing anything illegal, I find their claims to be misleading and that’s why I call it the poetry contest scam.
Here’s how I almost fell for it…
I don’t remember the exact year but it was the mid 90s because I know I was in college at the time. I had dreams (delusions) of being a famous writer and so I played around writing some short stories and a few poems. Most of them were never even finished but when I saw a magazine ad for a poetry contest with no entrance fee I figured what the hell. I might as well submit an entry and see if I have any talent.
Here’s the poem I submitted all those years ago…
I wanted her.
I got her.
I didn’t want her anymore.
I lost her.
I want her.
Anyway, after a few weeks or so I received a letter from the organization holding the contest. Apparently they loved my poem so much that I’d been named a semi-finalist! Visions of Pulitzer Prizes danced in my head.
And that’s just the start of it. They actually wanted to publish my poem in their next anthology! Plus I could buy a copy of that anthology for just 49.95! In fact I could also purchase a cassette tape (I did say this was the 90s) of my poem being read by a professional reader.
At that point my spidey-sense was tingling and I could tell something wasn’t right. I did a little research on the poetry contest scam and realized that I had almost been taken in by multi-million dollar scam.
Here’s how it works…
Everyone who submits an entry automatically becomes a semi-finalist and receives the same exact letter. John Stossel actually proved this on an old episode of 20/20 in which he had grade schoolers submit poems and every single kid in the class got the same letter…I couldn’t find the video so if anyone has a link to the piece please let me know. It’s nothing more than a form letter that makes you think your poem is special so you’ll be more likely to hand over some cash.
If you don’t purchase the anthology your poem will never be published. And if you do order it you’ll get a crappy book that is formatted so that every inch of paper is used. No thought at all is given to how it looks, they just cram in as many poems as possible so they can squeeze every last dollar out of the would-be poets who fall for their scam.
No one other than the poets themselves will ever read their work. They will never get famous or earn any royalties. And that’s definitely not what they had in mind when they entered the contest.